Many adults have struggled for a long time with their own weight and are mindful not to pass on hangups about ‘being fat’ to their children. You may even avoid conversations about weight or being healthy entirely as a result.
But, as an adult who cares for children, you also want your child to be happy and healthy. So, how to tackle the subject?
Statistics show that children are becoming less healthy, with rates of childhood obesity increasing over time. In 2021/22, just over 10% of reception-age children were obese, with a further 12% overweight.
Thankfully, there’s a way to help your children manage their weight and become healthier, without anyone feeling self-conscious - and that’s to do it as a family!
Encourage more movement
Whether your child is a healthy weight or overweight, movement and exercise are essential. Children of all ages should do at least 60 minutes of exercise a day and be encouraged to do more.
Think about how you can exercise as a family, incorporate movement into your day (by walking or cycling to school, for example) and make movement something that brings you together (dance party, anyone?!). Your brain is wired to want to do things that feel fun, so experiment with what activity makes you all feel good and then do more of it!
Serve appropriate portions
Make sure you know what a healthy portion size is for children of different ages - it’s often a lot smaller than you think! Offering larger-than-required portions leads to overeating, and creates a pattern of over-consuming in the longer term, leading to weight gain.
As a general rule, use the hand of the person who’s eating as your guide:
- One closed fist-size of carbohydrates like pasta, rice or bread
- One closed fist-size of vegetables or fruit
- One palm-size of protein, like meat, fish, tofu, beans, nuts
- One palm-size of calcium-rich dairy or dairy alternative, like milk, yoghurt, cheese
- Half a thumb-size of fats like butter, nut spreads, oil
Encourage your children to stop eating when they’ve had enough, rather than asking them to eat everything on their plate.
If you need more information on a healthy diet, check out the Eat Well resources: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidelines-and-food-labels/the-eatwell-guide/
Focus on healthy meals, snacks and drinks
Just like adults, children should eat five or more fruit and vegetables a day. And things like ice cream, sugary snacks, crisps, cakes, biscuits, and fizzy drinks should be kept to a minimum.
Make sure you have fruit, vegetables and dips, nuts, or yoghurts available at times when you know they’ll need a snack, such as after school. This may sound obvious, but children cannot choose healthier foods if they’re not available - so make sure you keep them in stock, serve them regularly and talk about them positively.
Reduce screen time
Inactive pastimes such as playing online games, watching TV and using a phone or tablet do not support a healthy lifestyle. Encourage your child to strike a balance and replace some of their screen-based activities with movement or time outdoors.
Encourage more sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep is important for your child’s wellbeing in so many ways, but it actually helps them get to a healthier weight too!
Did you know that, when you get enough sleep, your body releases hormones that help manage your appetite level during the day? In reverse, when you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases hormones that make you want to eat more.
Role model making small changes
As everyone in your family starts to eat more healthy meals, spends time in the local pool or park, or goes on bike rides together, living well becomes the goal, rather than one person changing their body composition. In addition, your family may even feel closer as a result!
You are the role model, setting the tone for how your family eats, moves, spends free time and takes care of their wellbeing. Start by making one small change a week and see the positive ripple effects.
If you have concerns about your child’s health, you don’t have to feel alone. Check out our child lifestyle service to see how we can help your family: https://www.essexwellbeingservice.co.uk/services/child-lifestyle-service